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War of words over natural gas drilling

Thursday, July 15th, 2010



The tension between tapping a massive reserve of natural gas and protecting the environment came to a head at the Delaware River Basin Commission on Wednesday. Both drilling supporters and opponents sparred at a commission meeting. The multi-state agency is pledging hearings on whether to keep a drilling moratorium in place.

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Outside a fire station in West Trenton, hundreds of people wearing anti-gas drilling stickers and waving signs opposed to hydraulic fracturing in the river basin rallied in support of the Commission’s decision. “No water for gas…no water for gas…no water for gas…” they chanted.

The Delaware River Basin Commission is charged with safeguarding the drinking water for 15 million people in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. And many worry that the drilling process will pollute the river.

“Is a threat to the future of this watershed, our water quality, our water resources, stand with me right? OK lets go in and lets tell him what we think!”

But inside, were hundreds more people wearing t-shirts and hats in support of drilling.

“We need this energy farms are going under and farmers are going to be forced to sell. Right now it is not fair, we need the jobs, it’s time to stop the delays. We have a wall around the entire Delaware River Basin, a wall, an invisible wall. You can’t see it, but its there. To borrow some words from Ronald Reagan, D.R.B.C. tear down this wall!”

David Jones’ comments drew both cheers and jeers. Jones is from the town of Dingman’s Ferry, a point along the river near where New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania meet. He runs a river rafting business and owns land on top of the gas rich Marcellus Shale. Jones says the environmentalists are over-reacting.

“These people will tell you they’re for the environment. Most of them don’t really care about that, what they really care about is their little lifestyle. They moved up here, they have a house form the city, and they don’t want any activity around their property. And yet they drive a car, they talk about benzene but yet they drive on asphalt roads and when you put asphalt down there’s a lot of benzene and a lot of CFC’s that get in the air.”

Jones is one of hundreds of landowners who have leased their mineral rights to gas companies. He says the process is safe, and the country needs to develop a cleaner-burning fuel. But he says the Commission’s moratorium threatens gas development and the flow of potential royalties.

But Steve Mavroudis disagrees. Mavroudis recently retired and moved from New York City to the tiny town of Sherman in Wayne County. Mavroudis has refused to sell his mineral rights despite pleas from the “landmen” who come knocking on his door, including one from Cabot Oil and Gas.

“I’m afraid that they’re going to ruin my water. And Cabot said well we’ll replace your water, no you can’t replace my water.”

Mavroudis worries about the chemicals used in the fracking process and says he doesn’t want to end up like some of the homeowners in Dimock — a town where residents are able to light their tap water on fire.

Sandra Folzer agrees with Mavroudis. She owns a 100 acre farm in Mansfield. But despite pleas from neighbors, and lucrative offers from gas companies, she’s not leasing.

“I got a call five minutes before I left from East, they’ve come to my door, I know they’re very anxious. Right now some people are getting $4,200 an acre, that means I would have gotten $500,000. I can understand why some people take it.”

There are plenty of others who disagree. Chuck Coccodrilli has lived all his life in the village of Cortez, near Scranton. Coccodrilli is with a group called the Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance. That group banded together to negotiate better terms on their natural gas leases. Coccodrilli says the companies can drill safely if they’re held to higher standards. And natural gas is necessary in the short term.

“The whole country should be pushing for wind, solar, geothermal, and I think nuclear, but all of that is going to take time to come up with the numbers, the BTU’s, the billions that we burn every year, natural gas is the cleanest of the bridge fuels. And that’s why I’m pro-responsible drilling.”

The Delaware River Basin Commission says it wants to keep the moratorium in effect until it studies the process and adopts safer drilling regulations.


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